Standing on the Shoulders of the Giants: Stories of 3 Pioneers

Author :Abdulsalam Y. Taha

Dr. Clarence Walton Lillehei 1918-1999 (Father of open heart surgery)
Dr. Clarence Walton Lillehei 1918-1999 (Father of open heart surgery)

The history of medicine and surgery is a rich source of interesting stories of genius and brave people who paved the way ahead of mankind towards the current status of medical and surgical practice. One has to admire the enthusiasms and courage of such people to whom millions of patients ought to be grateful.

The paper of Abdulsalam Y Taha1 and Jaffar S Shehatha2  from 1Department of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery at Sulaimania University/Sulaimania/Iraq and 2Department of Cardiac Surgery/PAR Hospital/ Irbil/Iraq and School of Surgery, University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia, published in International Journal of Clinical Medicine

2014, Vol.5 by Scientific Research Publishing reports the inspiring stories of 3 heart surgeons (Werner Forssmann, Dr. Lillehei and Dr. Michael E. DeBakey) and high- lights their outstanding contributions to the modern cardiac surgery. It reminds the people to remember these three pioneers forever and encourages people working in this field to seek innovation.

The three stories presented in this paper are just few examples of giant people who served the humanity by their extraordinary thinking, insistence and pioneering works. Werner Forssmann deserves to be named (the father of angiography). He had subjected himself to an invasive procedure, underwent 17 venous cut downs, fired from his job… etc. but eventually introduced people into a field with endless diagnostic and therapeutic applications and himself entered the medical history from its widest gates.

Dr. Lillehei solved the problems resulting from oxygenators at that time and provided near natural state by his genius technique of cross-circulation. He avoided using a complex heart-lung machine, yet achieved good results (32/45 survivors) in an era of high mortality due to oxygenator-related problems though he operated upon patients most of them were under the age of 2 years. The story of his malignancy and his visual problem later is really exciting. Though he couldn’t continue his surgical career after 55, he remained active. Dr. Walt Lillehei is “one of the surgical immortals”. Denton A. Cooley, a personal friend of C. W. Lillehei wrote (In Memoriam in Circulation 1999 issue) stating that “Approximately 1000 cardiothoracic surgeons, residing in numerous countries worldwide, can trace their preceptorial lineage to him. Many of these surgeons (including Christiaan Barnard and Norman Shumway) later headed well-known cardiothoracic programs of their own. First- and second-generation Lillehei trainees have developed important techniques in transplantation, perfusion, coronary artery bypass, prosthetic valves, and congenital heart surgery”.

When it comes to Dr. Michael E. DeBakey, it deserves to mention that at age 23, while still in the medical school at Tulane University, DeBakey developed the roller pump, the significance of which was not realized until 20 years later when it became an essential component of the heart lung machine. His innovations in cardiovascular surgery are difficult to count. To the amazement of his colleagues and patients, DeBakey continued to practice medicine into an age well after most others have retired. DeBakey practiced medicine until the day he died, and nearly reached 100 years of age in 2008.

Best finishes by: whatever we achieve in our career, we should feel humble and grateful to our predecessors and remember the letters of Isaac Newton “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of the giants”.

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